Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Impressions of a Neophyte
Neophyte is a word I’ve used for years and one which I find exceptionally appropriate to the matter at hand. From the Greek and meaning “newly planted,” it’s a word to describe a person who is fresh to an experience. Many fraternal orders in college refer to their initiates as neophytes, for instance.
It’s such a perfect word here because not only is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey set in ancient Greece, but I am brand spanking new to the AC franchise. After years of friends insisting I try the great games they’ve dropped hours into, I finally broke down and decided to give ACO a try. My cart is relatively empty while I wait for the fall releases to start rolling out, so it was worth some cash to try out a new and well-reviewed game.
I had played an AC game (I think it was the original) years ago, and I remembered being fairly bored with it as falling off buildings and auto-ganking NPCs just didn’t really appeal to me at the time. Since then, that initial impression has kept me from trying newer games in the series. When I finally installed Odyssey and loaded it up, my expectations were immediately crushed.
For one, the voice acting, animations, and character design in the latest offering are incredibly well done. I found myself impressed with the complexity and depth of one character after another. Markos, the friendly and yet terribly unwise friend of Alexios is the embodiment of that one friend everyone has who just can’t stay out of trouble, but that you just can’t help but like anyway. Barnabas, the seasoned sailor might be one of my favorite characters so far. He’s old and experienced enough to not fall for mythological silliness easily yet has had an experience he believes involved the gods. Ubisoft captured the subtly of reluctant belief well in that character, I think.
What I’ve found is that the game I expected to be about jumping from high places and killing the crap out of everyone you meet has instead turned into an amazingly unexpected roleplaying experience. I’m finding myself engrossed in the story in a way that I never expected, and the occasionally campy storyline doesn’t really detract from that experience for me. In fact, it feels strangely authentic. People are petty. We’re often small-minded, and if I’m frank, we can just be silly in general. While some of the mini-quests I’ve ran were initiated by or involved some character being a little overly simple-minded for my tastes, it’s done in a way that’s actually plausible. There really are people who would burn down an entire village and slaughter the population in order to control a plague, all the while ignoring that they themselves have now been exposed to said plague.
Beyond that, it’s the subtle touches that knock ACO out of the park for me. It’s things like standing at the helm while my crew rows our galley through the Mediterranean and they break into a song… in Greek! In fact, a friend of mine who’s family is from Greece originally says that the songs actually sound ancient to her ears. It’s a subtle detail that virtually no one would ever be in a position to pick up, but it’s there.
In so many ways, that seems to define what Ubisoft did successfully with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. They took an interesting global storyline, created a compelling world to set the story in, and then heaped in subtle details to give that world a sense of life. It’s the small touches that take a highly detailed game past well done and into intense immersion. Ubi, who I haven’t always been very happy with, has really knocked it out of the park with this one.
Okay, so maybe I do find a certain childish amusement in stacking the bodies of my slaughtered enemies into out of the way piles of corpses… In my defense, I don’t remember the combat in the older game being this much fun.
I’ve barely even scratched the surface of the game, and I’m already this impressed with it. The Athenian/Spartan struggle for regional dominance adds in another layer of complexity that I’ve yet to explore, and I’ve read that there’s an organization of antagonists that will make an appearance and create additional depth inside the game for me. I’m really blown away by Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. If you’re like me and haven’t touched the franchise up to this point, I’d have to encourage you to reconsider. If you enjoy open-world RPGs, this might be your game of the year.